How Many Hikers Get Lost A Year? | Hikers University

Hikers often get lost during hiking, which scares off many from going on their first hike. Do you want to know how many hikers get lost a year?

Hiking doesn’t just sound exhilarating; it is too. It’s fun, adventurous, exciting, and scary all at the same time and gives you the adrenaline rush, making you feel as good as you do when you’re hiking. Hiking is a true adventure, especially when you’re hiking through the lesser walked routes because that’s when you’re actually on a real adventure! But remember, there’s always a chance that you might get lost if you’re totally unfamiliar with the trail.

An average of 2000 hikers get lost every year. Some get separated from their group, others get lost due to bad weather conditions, and some get de-tracked without really knowing they’ve gotten off track. The lack of lighting and navigation are also reasons why hikers end up getting lost.

What makes hiking so adventurous is the fact that you get to walk on trails that not many people have access to, and therefore, the beauty of nature in most hiking trails is still untouched. You can enjoy nature at its best when hiking. If you’re a truly adventurous soul, you might want to try new things, especially on hiking trails that are still not fully explored yet. While navigation apps help hikers navigate through unknown paths, there’s always a chance of getting lost. You won’t find anyone along the way who could guide you. There won’t be any street lights or signboards to help you go the right way. And most importantly, you might not have access to an active internet connection throughout, which is when the navigation apps will stop working.

The fear of getting lost during hiking shouldn’t keep you from going on your first hike. We’ve hiked through the toughest trails and have also gotten lost, so we can tell you precisely what you can do not to get lost and what to do if you get lost during hiking.

Table of contents


How Many Hikers Get Lost a Year?

Every year, an average of 2,000 hikers get lost, resulting in the launch of Search and Rescue operations to safely bring the lost hikers home. While the number itself is sufficient to scare anyone off, what’s scarier is the fact that not all hikers who get lost are reported.

Some hikers who get lost find their way back home before their families can report them missing, and a Search and Rescue operation could be launched. So, in reality, the number of hikers who get lost every year might be much higher than what we’ve got on record.

Why Do Hikers Get Lost?

Hikers don’t just start hiking on a hiking trail they hear about. Hikers always do their homework before hitting the hiking trails. They study the surroundings to get an idea of what to expect during the hiking. From the types of wildlife to the natural hurdles like rivers or ditches to the type of climate around the area, hikers do the research about everything beforehand.

Why is it that some still get lost?

Well, there’s not one reason why hikers get lost during their hikes. Let’s look at some of the possible reasons why hikers lose track of direction and end up getting lost.

Deviate from the Trail

One of the biggest reasons why hikers get lost is the deviate from the trail. They simply deviate with a thought, ‘let me just see what we’ve got here,’ and alas! When they turn around to return, they’ve got no idea where they came from. This is especially the case when hiking through dense forests where everything looks the same!

Let’s say you’re hiking, and you hear a faint sound of a waterfall that wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the internet. You’re curious and excited and want to see where the waterfall is and how it looks so you can brag about the discovery in your circle. What do you do? Change your path. And that’s exactly what might get you lost!

No matter how tempted you feel to explore a path that’s not on your planned trail, you shouldn’t get de-tracked!


Although hikers always check the weather updates before hitting the trail, you can never be sure about nature. Another common reason why hikers get lost is unanticipated storms and bad weather conditions that cause them to panic. In a desperate attempt to find a safe spot, hikers don’t realize when they move off the planned trail and get lost.

Drop-Offs and Falls

Oftentimes, hiking trails aren’t straight. One moment you’ll be walking on flat land. The next moment, you’ll be walking up or down a slope. Many hiking trails also get quite steep with drop-offs where you might slip if you aren’t careful.

This is another reason why hikers get lost. They slip off steep pathways and fall into ditches or off the cliffs from where it gets nearly impossible for them to return to the main trail. If the height of the drop-off is too much, hikers may even become unconscious and lose their sense of direction completely.


Hikers often get injured. All hikers carry a basic first aid kit with them for this very reason. However, sometimes, the injury may be too severe. For example, a hiker may slip into a ditch and get a fractured leg. In this case, there’s no way they can complete their hike and return home. If the network coverage in the area is poor, they may not be able to contact and inform their family about it either.

Get Separated from the Group of Guide

Most beginners often hike in groups or with guides who know the way well. Now, not everyone hikes at the same pace. It’s possible that you’re hiking at a much slower pace than the rest of your group and your group gets too far, and you’ve got no idea where they went. Getting separated from the group or guide is yet another reason why hikers get lost during hiking.

Failure of Navigation Apps

Most hikers rely on navigation apps to guide them through the hiking trail. However, you won’t find an active internet connection everywhere, and most apps require an internet connection to work. This is a very common reason for hikers getting lost. There’s no way a hiker would know which way to go if they’re hiking on that trail for the first time.

How Not to Get Lost

Obviously, you should do everything it takes to not get lost. If it’s your first time going on a hike, you might not know how to prepare yourself and avoid getting lost. But fret not. We can help you ‘not get lost on your first hike.’

Prepare for the Worst

The first and most important tip to not get lost is to be prepared for the worst. Know that you can get lost and prepare accordingly. Tell someone at home (a parent, sibling, friend) where you’re going, which route you’ll be following, how long it should ideally take you to return home, who’s accompanying you, what’s your starting point, and who to get in touch with if you fail to contact them after a certain time.

This would ensure that help reaches you on time in case you don’t return on your expected time. You won’t have to stay lost for too long because help will be on the way before you even know it!

Learn to Read a Map

Don’t rely on navigation apps alone. As we’ve said earlier, you may not have an active network connection throughout the trail, and most apps don’t work without the internet. A physical map will help you only if you know how to read it in this situation.

One way to ensure you don’t get lost is to follow the map from the beginning. Don’t wait to get lost before pulling out your map. Mark your starting point and follow the trail as it’s on the map. In case you do lose direction, you’ll know exactly where you are on the map at that moment, and you can continue accordingly.

If you don’t follow the map from the beginning, you might not know which point on the map is your starting point and where you are currently.

Learn to Use a Compass

We’re living in an era where our reliance on technology is more than ever. But when you’re going hiking, you shouldn’t rely on technology fully. You may follow navigation apps blindly, but your GPS won’t help you without the internet. Just like knowing how to read a map is important when you’re going on a hike, learning to use a compass is equally critical.

A compass can help you identify your location if you do get lost. Let’s say you’ve got no idea where you are and which direction you should be headed to. A compass can help you, but just like in the case of a map, only if you know how to use and read it.

Spot and Follow Landmarks

If you feel like you’re walking on a trail that seems a bit off and that you might be lost, look for landmarks which could be any peaks, valleys, or rivers, and locate the landmarks on the map. Since you’ll already have your starting point marked on the map (that’s the ideal case), you can easily figure out which route you’re on by looking at where on the map the landmark is that you’re standing near at that very moment.

Look for Definite Spots

If you’re hiking through a dense forest, you may not be able to locate landmarks. That’s when definite spots will help you. A definite spot could be anything, from a sharp turn to a junction of the trail and a river, or a giant rock. They can help you identify your exact position on the map, and then you can continue following the map toward your destination.

Keep Track of Time

If you’re a regular hiker, you can have an estimated time that will take you to cover a particular distance. Keep track of time. If a certain path is taking you longer than it should, you probably aren’t on the right track.

That’s when you should check your map and see if you’re on the right track. Don’t just keep walking, assuming that you’re on the right track, because if you aren’t, you’re only walking further away from the correct trail.

For example, if a 2-mile distance usually takes you 2 hours and you still aren’t there after 3 hours, you’ve got to stop and check if you are headed in the right direction.

What to Do if You Get Lost?

Let’s say you do get lost despite doing everything right; what should you do then?

It could be due to an unexpected storm or an unanticipated encounter with an animal that made you flee without giving much thought to the direction you’re heading in.  

The first thing that you should do if you get lost during hiking is not to panic. If you panic, you won’t be able to think clearly and decide the next set of actions.

Try to Figure Out Where You are

Stay calm and try to figure out where you are. Look for any definite spots or landmarks that can help you identify your location. You’ll be able to do it with the help of a topographic map and compass.

Don’t continue the hike before you’ve got a clear idea of where you are. You may be heading in the wrong direction, and if you don’t stop, you may go further away from the actual trail and make it even more difficult for yourself to return.

Go Back Where You’re Coming from in Your Mind

Once you’ve gathered your wits, think hard of any landmark that you may have crossed a while ago. See if you can retrace your steps back to that landmark and then find that landmark on the map. Once you’ve your location on the topographic map, finding the correct route to your destination will become easier.

For this, you’ll have to think and focus hard. You’ve got to be in a relaxed mode. If you’re panicking, you can never figure out anything, let alone retrace your steps to a point you’re coming from.

Don’t Assume Anything

Don’t assume that you must be on the right track. As we’ve said above, if you continue walking without being sure you’re headed in the right direction, you’ll only make things more difficult for yourself. Don’t assume that you came from the right if you aren’t absolutely certain. Rely on the tools you’ve got. The map and compass will be your best guides.

Wait for Help

If you can’t figure out anything at all, the best thing to do is to wait for help. If you don’t return in time, someone will send help (provided that you informed someone back home about your plan).

Another thing that you can do if you get lost and can’t seem to figure out your location on the map follows a stream or river. A water stream or river might end up at a civilization (most probably), and once you’re around people, you can ask them for directions. But this should be the last resort!


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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